A Buggy Inheritance / York, PA

Giving-to-charity2Institution seeking judge's help to alter Carl J Drake's will, who left the museum money to buy more bugs, now considered 'wasteful'

You commit to charity with nothing but the greatest of intentions, but when it comes to unique or truly large gifts of charity good intentions are not necessarily all it takes to do the most good. Without proper planning and consideration of the options, a gift of charity can actually be a gift of a future burden to your institution of choice.

Consider the case of the Smithsonian Museum and the entomologist Carl J Drake, as relayed in a recent article in the Guardian titled “Smithsonian Museum is bugging out over insect inheritance.” Most museums across the globe really only start out and build their vast collections through the largesse of charitable donors. The Smithsonian is no stranger to gifts of the strangest collections with the most peculiar needs and various limiting conditions. That said, Drake’s bug collection is beginning to bug them. The Museum is actually petitioning the courts in an attempt to modify the gift.

Drake left his vast collection of preserved specimen (dead bugs) to the museum through his last will with various rules attached to protect the collection and ensure its preservation. In addition, on top of that, he left his entire fortune to the museum with the express purpose of purchasing new bug collections. Unfortunately, the rules were written several decades ago and they just do not make as much sense anymore. Legal changes have made it hard to buy collections so the money sits and, moreover, the rules regarding the existing collection are as onerous as they are dated. While you can read more in the original article, when it is all said and done, the gift cuts against the museum’s own ability to effectively manage the collection and they lament the waste.

Drake really loved his bugs and he really thought hard about ensuring his collection would live on. It certainly is a motivation we can all appreciate – even the squeamish – and we can also appreciate the amount of planning he did to make the gift. This case illustrates both what you can do intentionally right and what you can do unintentionally wrong. Accordingly, the case is instructive on several levels.

If you have a very specific gift to make there is much to do and think about. Proper planning can mean building your gift with more appreciation for its receipt and longevity.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

ReferenceThe Guardian (June 12, 2014) “Smithsonian Museum is bugging out over insect inheritance

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